Cocaine is an illicit substance derived from the Coca plant that is classified as a psychostimulant drug. Psychostimulant drugs speed up the messages travelling between the brain and affected parts of the body. Cocaine is popularly used on social occasions, which results in bingeing (repeated use at increasingly higher doses). (1)

What is Cocaine?

Long-term abuse of Cocaine can result in the user experiencing a wide range of serious mental and physical health conditions. These effects are not only derived from the drug itself, but also from the method of administration. Cocaine is an extremely addictive drug. Often, during times of abstinence, heavy users may be drawn back to using the drug due to the craving the pleasurable memories associated with past use. (2)

Studies have shown that repeated Cocaine use has profound effects on several parts of the human brain. These range from effects on the reward pathways (i.e., a user requires more and more of the drug to achieve a satisfactory high) to sensitisation to Cocaine toxicity (a condition whereby less of the drug is required to trigger the onset of anxiety, convulsions, etc). (3)

Download the Cocaine Drug Fact Sheet

Common Street Names

Coke, blow, flake, candy, nose candy, Pepsi, coca puffs, “C”, Charlie, toot, gold dust, AKA, Vitamin C, snow, girl, glass, the real thing, white lady, o.k., okey doke. (4)


In 2019, the 2nd most common illicit drug used in the previous 12 months was Cocaine (4.2%). Between 2016 and 2019, the percentage of people who used Cocaine increased from 2.5% to 4.2%. (5) This was the highest rate of usage in Australia within the last two decades (6). This can be partly explained by the abundance of supply, and relative ease of attaining Cocaine as opposed to Ecstasy or other stimulants. However, due to cost of Cocaine, and the use pattern, frequency of use was moderately low with many users reporting usage only once or twice per year. (7)

In 2020, the main approach for arranging the purchase of any illicit or non-prescribed drugs by participants of the Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) in the previous 12 months was via social networking applications (such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Grindr, Tinder) (75%), followed by face-to-face (67%). (8)

How Cocaine is used and how to identify it

Users of Cocaine can be classed as Occasional, Binge, or Regular Users. With these different classifications comes different use patterns, different administration methods, and use of different variants of the drug:

  • Cocaine Hydrochloride is a white/off-white coloured powder, and the most commonly found variant of the drug – it is usually sniffed through the nose (snorting), mixed as a drink, or dissolved in water and injected.
  • Crack Cocaine is created by removing the Hydrochloride through a chemical. Crack Cocaine is also commonly referred to as ‘Free Base’ Cocaine – ‘free base’ is predominantly smoked or dissolved and injected.
  • Cocaine is normally sold in ‘points’ (0.1g) or grams and is commonly packaged in small plastic sachets, balloons, or household aluminium.

What are the symptoms of somebody who is under the influence?

The following symptoms are known behaviours associated with systematic drug use. They should not be used as definitive confirmation that a person is drug affected or struggling with substance abuse.

Users may exhibit the following behaviours whilst under the influence of Cocaine:

  • Increased energy, talkativeness and overt displays of exhilaration and euphoria
  • Increased sex drive and lower inhibitions
  • Overconfidence and risk-taking. The user may feel stronger, smarter, or invincible, and feels little pain or fatigue.
  • Restlessness and problems sleeping
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure after an initial reduction in both. (4)

Long term users may exhibit the following behaviours whilst under the influence of Cocaine:

  • A runny nose, watery eyes, blocked sinus – Symptoms synonymous with a cold.
  • Damage to the nose and nasal passage, which may manifest as regular nose bleeds.
  • Increased blood pressure, along with the associated risks of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Loss of appetite and drastic weight loss
  • Black-outs, fainting, and seizures
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low sex drive
  • Hyper-sensitivity of the skin
  • Violent, aggressive, or irrational behaviour
  • Paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations. This combination of symptoms is often referred to as “Cocaine Psychosis”. (4)

What are the symptoms of withdrawal?

When it comes to withdrawal, or the effects of ceasing or lowering dosage, the mental and physical affects are at their most severe approximately 24 hours after last taking the substance. As with many drugs, these symptoms vary in intensity and longevity based upon the history of usage (i.e. heavier or longer term users experience more intense side-effects).

The most commonly observed symptoms of Cocaine withdrawal are:

  • A profound sense of unease or dissatisfaction with life
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue and depression
  • Difficulty sleeping, followed by “crashing” or prolonged periods of deep sleep.
  • An insatiable craving for more Cocaine(7)

Business Risks

Whilst under the influence of Cocaine, many of the symptoms associated with the drugs consumption are likely to cause hazardous behaviours in the user. These actions may not only affect the user personally, but also; the safety of co-workers, a greater risk of damage to plant and equipment, and in the event of an accident, ongoing commercial impacts such as increased insurance premiums, costs associated with injury management, and the potential for costly legal action.

Quick facts about usage

  • In 2019, the most common illicit drugs used in the previous 12 months was cannabis (11.6%), followed by cocaine (4.2%) and ecstasy (3.0%). Between 2016 and 2019 the percentage of people who had used Cocaine increased by 1.7% (from 2.5% to 4.2%). (9)
  • At 11.4%, Cocaine ranks third in popularity on the list of drugs that make up the illicit drug use burden.
  • The median age of people who used cocaine was 25 years of age in 2001. This rose to 28 years of age in 2019. (10)
  • “Cocaine use among people in their 20s was at its highest level in 2019. Much of the rise in cocaine use among people in this age group occurred between 2016 and 2019—from 4.3% in 2001 to 6.9% in 2016 and up to 12.0% in 2019.” (10)
  • “Employed people were more likely than unemployed people to use cocaine in the last 12 months (6.2% compared with 3.7%)”.(10)

What does a Cocaine Overdose look like?

When a person uses high or increasing quantities of the drug more frequently, the physical and mental effects of that usage is amplified. When the concentration within a user’s system reaches such a level that the body cannot eliminate the drug fast enough, an overdose occurs. (11)

  • irrational behaviour
  • agitation and hostility
  • paranoid delusions and hallucinations
  • fever and fits
  • unconsciousness
  • nausea and/or vomiting.
  • anxiety
  • chest pains
  • tremors
  • breathing difficulties (7)

What to do in the event of an overdose

If someone looks like they are in trouble and there is a suspicion that they may have been using drugs, it’s very important that they get medical help quickly. A quick response can save their life.

  • Call an ambulance by dialling triple zero (000). Ambulance officers are not required to involve the police unless they feel in danger.
  • Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives. Find out if anyone at the scene knows CPR in case the person stops breathing.
  • Ensure the person has enough air by keeping crowds back and opening windows or taking them outside. Loosen tight clothing.
  • If the person is unconscious or wants to lie down, put them in the recovery position. This involves gently rolling them onto their side and slightly tilting their head back. This stops them choking if they vomit and allows them to breath easily.
  • Provide ambulance officers with as much information as you can, such as how much of the drug was used, how long ago and any pre-existing medical conditions. If they have taken a drug that came in a packet, give the packet to the ambulance officers.
  • If you can’t get a response from someone, don’t assume they’re asleep. Not all overdoses happen quickly and sometimes it can take hours for someone to die. Doing something early could save a life.
  • Update your Incident and/or Injury Register with all required details(12)

Detection Window

A Drug Detection Window is the period of time after a drugs ingestion by a user during which a drug or its metabolites remain present in the user’s system and can be detected through various drug testing protocols.

The “period of time” can vary depending on several factors including but not limited to:

  • Amount and frequency of use
  • Metabolic Rate
  • Body Mass
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Overall Health
  • Drug Tolerance Level
  • Urine Ph Level
  • Type of specimen, testing method, and Cut-off Level(13)
Drug Urine Sweat Oral Blood
Amphetamine 1-3 days 1-4 days 12 hours 2 days
Methamphetamine 1-3 days 1-4 days 1 day 2 days
MDMA 1-3 days 1-4 days 1 day 1 day
THC 1-30 days 1-4 days 12-24 hours 2-3 days
Cocaine 1-3 days 1-4 days 1 day 2 days
Heroin 1-3 days 1-4 days 1 day 2 days

Help with developing a Workplace Alcohol and Drug Policy

Alcohol and drugs—including medicines prescribed by a doctor or available from a pharmacy—can affect a person’s ability to work safely. Whilst all workers have a personal responsibility to ensure their own health and safety is not compromised in the workplace, or may unduly affect their co-workers, there is also an onus on employers to reduce the risk associated with drug and alcohol impairment where an employee fails in their own duty of care. Among other measures, Employers should develop a Workplace Alcohol and Drug Policy to set forth the principles under which a safe and drug-free working environment is governed. Following are the state-based organisations who can help employers with developing a Workplace Alcohol and Drug Policy.

New South Wales – Download PDF

Queensland – Download PDF

Victoria – Download PDF

Australian Capital Territory – Go to website

South Australia – Download Doc

Northern Territory – Go to website

Western Australia – Go to website

Tasmania – Download Doc


The information on this website is presented by APAC Diagnostic and is intended as an educational and research tool to aid businesses in creating safe and drug free workplaces.

Whilst all due care has been undertaken to ensure the accuracy and currency of the material contained on this website, the information is made available on the understanding that APAC Diagnostic is not providing professional or medical advice on any particular matter.

APAC Diagnostic does not accept any legal liability or responsibility for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided on this website.

About APAC Diagnostic

APAC Diagnostic sponsors the No Drugs at Work campaign and also offers fully customisable drug testing solutions for your workplace. These include, but are not limited to: Onsite testing, alcohol testing, and drug testing. Our devices are designed to be user friendly and non-invasive.

APAC Diagnostic works with a broad spectrum of businesses in both the private and government sectors. Should you require a quotation on larger commercial quantities of our products or a tailored service solution, please contact our team on +61 2 9986 2252 or via email and we will be pleased to help you in working to create a safe and drug free workplace.

Works Cited

  1. The Department of Health. Prevalence and patterns of psychostimulant use in Australia. The Department of Health. [Online] The Australian Government, April 2004. [Cited: February 22, 2021.]
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the long-term effects of cocaine use? Massachusetts : National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016.
  3. —. What are some ways that cocaine changes the brain? Massachusetts : National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016.
  4. New South Wales Police. Cocaine and the Law. NSW Police. [Online] [Cited: February 22, 2021.]
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Illicit drug use. Canberra : The Australian Government, 2020.
  6. Scott, Sophie, Timms, Penny and Lloyd, Mary. Cocaine use at new highs, increased vaping use in young people, report finds, but cigarette, alcohol consumption down. [Webpage Report] s.l. : ABC News, 2020.
  7. National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. Increase in cocaine prevalence, availability, and hospitalisations in Australia says new report. UNSW Sydney. [Online] National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, February 25, 2021. [Cited: February 26, 2021.]
  8. ACIC 2020A. Illicit Drug Data Report 2018-19. Canberra : ACIC, 2019.
  9. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Illicit Drug Use. Canberra : AIHW, 2020.
  10. —. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra : AIHW, 2020. 2205-507X.
  11. The Treehouse. List Of Commonly Abused Benzodiazepines. The Treehouse. [Online] The Treehouse, May 08, 2020. [Cited: February 02, 2021.]
  12. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Overdose. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. [Online] February 16, 2017.
  13. Urine Drug Screening: Practical Gude for Clinicians. Karen E. Moeller, Pharmd, BCPP, Kelly C. Lee. Pharmd, BCPP and Julie C. Kissack. Pharmd, BCPP. 1, s.l. : Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2008, Vol. 83. P66-76.
  14. Better Health Channel. Benzodiazepines. Better Health. [Online] October 2020.
  15. Beyond Blue. Benzodiazepines. Beyond Blue. [Online] Beyond Blue. [Cited: January 21, 2021.]
  16. Addiction Centre. Drug Street Names. Addiction Centre. [Online] Addiction Centre, December 2, 2020.
  17. Nichols, Sam. The Rise, Fall, and Explosive Return of Benzos to Australia. Vice. [Online] Vice, July 28, 2020. [Cited: January 28, 2021.]
  18. Peacock, A. Australian Drug Trends 2020: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney : National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney., 2020.
  19. Bounds, Connor G. and Nelson, Vivian L. Benzodiazepines. NCBI. [Online] STATPEARLS, January 2020. [Cited: January 28, 2021.]
  20. Amin, Nouran. Increasing Misuse of Prescription Drugs. Lab Roots. [Online] Lab Roots, December 18, 2018. [Cited: January 28, 2021.]
  21. AIHW. Alcohol, Tobacco, & Other Drugs in Australia. Canberra : AIHW, 2020.
  22. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016. Canberra : Australian Government, 2017. PHE 214.
  23. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of Death, Australia, 2016. Canberra : Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018.